It's not every day you go out for dinner and receive the gift of longevity. But at Restaurant Shik you do, alongside an array of dishes that defy the usual labels applied to Korean cuisine.
Start with the 100 Year Tonic. It's made with fermented rice wine and ginseng, and is designed to give long life (100 years, to be exact) and to pump goodness through your veins as fast as you can say beetroot kimchi. And here, you can say beetroot kimchi, and fennel and river mint kimchi, and even a persimmon kimchi. There might be items you see at other Korean restaurant menus, but Restaurant Shik isn't like other Korean restaurants.
While owner and chef Peter Jo, affectionately known as Kimchi Pete, says that what he's doing can't be pigeon-holed by tradition, but it's also not fusion. His food is constantly evolving. His philosophy is to use great local produce, respect it, treat it well, and apply Korean techniques to it.
It would be easy to over order here — it all sounds so good and the plates passing by to other tables are seductive — but Jo won't let you. He really enjoys looking after people and making sure they have a good time. Ask him to take you through the menu and he might suggest the starter of finely cubed Rangers Valley beef tartare ($18). It's lightly marinated and served with cubed Korean pear, cucumber and the teensiest dollops of egg emulsion. It's an excellent choice — a combination of fresh and smoky all in one mouthful. The little wisps of fried saltbush are a delicious flourish, too.
On the menu, is the elusively described Goolwa pipis ($26) soya bean sprouts and water parsley. On the plate, it's a big bowl of savoury spicy broth filled with succulent pipis and the textural sprouts.
Another standout is the kimchi marinated pork neck ($32). The pork is cooked sous-vide for three hours then grilled, sliced and topped with a finely sliced kimchi, leaves for wrapping, garlic shoots, bean sprouts and a special sauce, which brings it all together. Juicy, tender with a hint of char, you could eat this pork forever. Well, for at least the 100 years afforded you by the tonic.
Jo favours natural wines and Shik and has an extensive list of local and international wines by the bottle, and a handful of wines by the glass. You can certainly try some Korean fermented rice wine and beer and there is even a 'token Aussie light beer.' And yes, that is how it's referred to on the list.
Don't save room for dessert. Jo subscribes to the theory that if you can't do it absolutely right, don't do it all. Which is fine, you'll want to save all the room for the rest of the menu.
Images: Kate Shanasy